Dr. Ken Foster
Chair/Professor of Political Science
Director of Community Engagement
Please tell us a bit about your background and what brought you here.
Following three years teaching English in Taiwan, I began my doctoral degree program in political science at the University of California, Berkeley. I was trained broadly in comparative politics, with a specific concentration in the politics of China. Upon graduation, I secured a great position as the specialist on Chinese politics at the University of British Columbia. While I had a great experience there, during those years I realized that what I most enjoy and value is working with undergraduate students. That is what drew me to Concordia — the opportunity to focus on undergraduate teaching and mentoring.
At Concordia, I’ve also had the chance to return to my first love, environmental studies. Concordia has provided me with abundant opportunities to work with colleagues and students to understand and promote positive change in the area of sustainability and environmental governance. This connects to another big interest of mine, which is the promotion of collaborative approaches to problem-solving. My recent work with the Moorhead Community Resilience Task Force and in community engagement at Concordia has focused on precisely this.
What are your current positions at Concordia and how long have you been in those roles?
My primary position is as a professor in the department of political science. I teach courses on comparative politics, Chinese politics, environmental politics, and the politics of socioeconomic development. I also co-teach a course on social activism. All of these courses include a focus on democracy and citizen involvement in governance.
I’m also chair of the President’s Sustainability Council. I’ve been in this role for nearly 10 years. The council endeavors to promote sustainability at Concordia, working to pursue the president’s vision for Concordia in this area.
I also now serve as chair of the political science department. My other new role is the director of Community Engagement. This is a part-time role; I will still be teaching four courses per year. This is important to me, as I wouldn’t want to leave teaching and advising.
What are your favorite courses to teach and why?
It’s always hard to choose a favorite. I suppose I would choose Environmental Policy and Politics. This is a PEAK course and students do projects in the local community, usually in Moorhead. I love working with students as we understand how to try to achieve positive change on environmental issues.
Can you tell us more about the purpose of the Community Engagement Office?
In 2021, a newly designated Office of Global Learning and Community Engagement was formed. The community engagement work that I am leading focuses on connecting faculty and students with people and organizations in the community outside of Concordia. We want all Concordia students to have meaningful experiences working with partners in the community. My job is to help facilitate those connections.
What do you love most about your work?
Although I do a wide variety of things, what I still love most is working with students as a teacher, co-inquirer, and advisor. It is a great privilege to be able to work with college students, helping them to learn and grow, even as I also learn a great deal from them.
How does Concordia allow you to be passionate about your work?
Concordia provides opportunities to pursue multiple areas of interest.
What can you tell us about your involvement with Resilient Moorhead?
Several years ago, I worked with a colleague, Tim Hiller, to create the Moorhead Community Resilience Task Force. This brings together 21 different organizations in Moorhead to collaborate in seeking to increase the resilience of our community in the face of climate change and other challenges coming our way. In 2019, I worked with task force colleagues to submit a grant proposal to the Bush Foundation. We received a community innovation grant, administered through Concordia College. I direct that grant and continue to convene the task force. Our social media presence is called Resilient Moorhead.
What does resilience mean to you within the context of Resilient Moorhead?
I focus on resilience at the organizational and community level. A resilient organization or community is one that is able to survive and even thrive in the face of unexpected shocks and challenges. A resilient community is adaptable, resourceful, inclusive, well-managed, and marked by networks of collaboration. These are the kinds of qualities we seek to promote in our community resilience work in Moorhead.
How do you manage your workload as a professor, director of Community Engagement, and your role with Resilient Moorhead?
Over the years, I have learned what I need to do to maintain physical and mental health. There are always additional things to do in these roles. I do what I can while maintaining balance and health. I learned many years ago that sacrificing one’s physical or mental well-being for work, however important that work may be, is not worth it.
Do you have any advice for students considering Concordia?
The best thing about Concordia is that faculty give tremendous time and energy to their students. Students are our first priority. My advice to students is to choose a college where faculty are focused on undergraduate education.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I love birds and insects and all the other beings and life forms that we share this Earth with, so I have a special interest in promoting the ecological health of the land around me. I have a passion for planting gardens with native plants that are beneficial for pollinators.
Published February 2022